Diversity, Data, And The X-Factor

Shannon Platz

In my office, I have a Magic 8 ball. It’s there for a very specific reason: to remind me that when I have an imperfect understanding of the data behind results, then I mismanage, misjudge, and ask the wrong questions.

Too often, I have a tendency to jump to conclusions, use gut feelings, or just resort to heuristics that I have learned over a lifetime rather than taking the time to look at the current facts of the situation.

“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” -Mark Twain

I might as well save myself some time and just shake the Magic 8 ball. Biases can be a dangerous pitfall. For example, opportunity, or talent, can be overlooked for a variety of biased reasons: age, appearance, culture, personality, perceived flaws, experience, and conventional wisdom.

This is not what leadership is about. Leadership should embrace multi-faceted perspectives and be trailblazing; unlocking the X-factor to drive innovation and high performance. In other words, diversity can help overcome biases.

Diversity delivers results

Diversity is good for business, whether age, gender, ethnicity, disability or acquired, generational savvy, social media skills, global mindsets, or language skills. Inherent and acquired diversity need to blend to build high-performing teams.

According to this article from Deloitte, leading organizations now see diversity and inclusion as a comprehensive strategy that should be woven into every aspect of the talent lifecycle to enhance employee engagement, improve brand, and drive performance.  What’s really encouraging is that over two-thirds (69 percent) of executives now rate diversity and inclusion an important issue, a rise of 10% from their last survey in 2014.

There has been a good deal of research and statistic crunching to show that diversity within an organization works. We know it’s good for business. We know that businesses with diverse leadership are 75% more likely to have ideas implemented and 70% more likely to open a new market segment.

However, as a woman in a leadership role myself, I have seen people all too often judged on a false set of biased criteria (and we’re back to the Magic 8 ball).

Why data is critical to leadership

So diversity can help overcome biases, but is it enough?  Diversity is an X-factor that overcomes the trappings of bias, but there needs to be a second ingredient—one that overcomes the tenacity of bias. Enter data, stage left.

For me, data is the other X-factor. And if I specifically talk about women in technology at this point, it defuses many blockers and gives us a weapon to fight bias, such as the stereotype that women base everything on female intuition or that their decisions are based on emotion.

Data brings justification for investment and support for the projects we want to drive.

Data is not gender-, language-, culture-, or even industry-specific, and it does enable women to operate equally in today’s complex digital world.

We must find intelligence in data, eliminate bias, embrace differences of thought, and build it all into our decision-making process in order to project the value that no one else can see.

Embracing diversity of thought

Here’s a real-world example of adapting the X-factor: In India, banks have opened “women-only” branches. The reason they did this is that they knew women have the assets, but they need an environment where they can discuss with other women what they feel is important about their investment decisions. It’s a great example of diversity of thinking and identification of opportunity. Only after they assessed the data as well as the market opportunity did they open themselves up to an incredible new market segment that’s growing exponentially. There are many great stories like this, but the key is that this only comes when a leader embraces diversity of thought.

Diversity plus data is the X-factor that elevates and empowers women beyond being reactive leaders, or statistically driven headcount, to being transformational leaders who anticipate, respond, and reinvent. Leaders, regardless of role, organization, industry, or line of business should embrace the X-factor.

However, in applying the X-factor to drive innovation and high performance, we should understand that it is a process. It’s a process that leads to identification and insight, and one that highlights and forces adjustments and pivots. It’s a process that drives reinvention and innovation and allows us to not only survive but thrive.

I’ll leave you with a couple quotes from the 2011 movie, “Moneyball.” In it, Billy Beane’s truly unconventional approach to scouting and trading baseball players sets the entire baseball world on its collective ear. It’s a classic example of how the Oakland A’s system used the X-Factor.

Peter Brand (to Billy Beane): “People are overlooked for a variety of biased reasons and perceived flaws: Age, appearance, personality. [Bill James] and Mathematics cuts straight through that. Billy, of the twenty thousand notable players for us to consider, I believe that there’s a championship team of 25 people that we can afford. Because everyone else in baseball undervalues them—like an island of misfit toys.”

Billy Beane: “We are card counters at the blackjack table. And we’re gonna turn the odds on the casino.”

Back to my office: The baseball next to the Magic 8 ball ensures the X-factor is front and center.

For more insight on workplace diversity and related issues, see Can Technology Remove Bias From The Workplace?

Shannon Platz

About Shannon Platz

Shannon Platz is Global Vice President of Platform Ecosystem at SAP. She is responsible for partner sales and the go-to-market strategy for digital solutions such as analytics, databases, Big Data, cloud, and Internet of Things platforms and applications. Shannon is a transformational leader who is passionate about customer, partner, and employee success. She believes in and supports the development of others to reach their full potential. She is a mentor, leadership coach, and diversity champion inside and outside of SAP. A published author and international speaker on analytics to drive competitive differentiation, Shannon serves on several boards and committees focused on the advancement of women.